My experience has taught me that cyber junkies pursue online “rewards” that they lack in their lives: opportunities for achievement and challenge, social connection, discovery, exploration, stimulation, and excitement. It is not inherently bad to get these needs met in the cyber world, but some individuals become too dependent.
The trick in empowering these usually imaginative and highly intelligent people is to brainstorm creative ways for them to meet these needs in the real world. Discovery-oriented Matt had a father determined to help him break his addiction to video games. The 12 year old did like to ride his bike, so his father found ways of turning that into discovery and adventure. Every weekend in the summer, the two journeyed with their bikes to a different and unusual venue. They took the ferry to a biker-friendly island in Lake Erie. They mapped out an urban route in the city of Toronto, taking in sites and sounds along the way. They combined kayaking and biking along a local river. Matt’s father took pains to make sure their biking routes included interesting and unusual attractions. He linked screen time with these activities as well, providing potent motivational potential.
Fifteen-year-old David obsessed on real-time strategy video games, racking up 20+ hours per week, although he maintained his weekly total was much lower. Yes, cyber junkies engage in deception and denial. Sometimes, they even lie to themselves. David’s father’s remedy was to play paintball with him once a week. They even played indoors in the winter. Just like Matt’s father had insisted, no screen time was allowed unless they had gone to paint ball together that week. Eventually, they augmented this with other activities like rock climbing, snow boarding, and shooting at a local gun range. David’s interest in games actually decreased significantly after a few months.
Tucker, on the other hand, never seems to lose an ounce of interest in games. They are his entire life. Ultima Online, World of Warcraft, Wii, XBox, N64…he likes them all. He is a true addict. At the age of 23, after having been homeless and lost several jobs, his uncle agreed to take him in. He was able to live there only under strict conditions: He had to wake up by nine in the morning and begin two hours of chores; He had to demonstrate that he had put in at least an hour a day looking for work; He was allowed no video games and was given just 15 minutes a day to check his email and Facebook. His uncle, obviously something of a control freak, also installed elaborate computer controls. He has not found a job yet, but has adhered to the system for now. If you don’t deal with cyber junkies when they’re young, they could very well end up like Tucker.
Responsible, consistent and creative parenting, however, take you a long way toward NOT having a Tucker in the family. Most parents struggle with ideas for activities. So, set up a brainstorming session with friends and family. Ask around. Post what you’re trying to do on Facebook. Talk to librarians, school counselors, psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists. Get creative to create balance.